William Bandera, goalie for the St. John Vianney hockey team, looked calm as a key playoff game against De Smet Jesuit High School began. The looks were deceptive, however.
"At the beginning of the game I was pretty shaky because it is kind of a do-or-die game for us, and De Smet is a heck of a program. They've always been very good," Bandera said.
Bandera's big saves set the course as Vianney fought off several onslaughts by De Smet's offense, leading to a 2-1 victory Feb. 6 at Queeny Park in west St. Louis County.
De Smet led the game on a goal late in the second period from William Carter off an assist from Jack Estes. The third period began without scoring chances for either team until Vianney's Andrew Cook took the puck all the way from the defensive zone and scored the tying goal. After a few penalties, a desperate De Smet pulled its goalie, and Vianney's Reid Zimmermann carefully eluded a De Smet defender to score the game-winning goal with .7 seconds left in the game.
Bandera cited his team's close-knit bond for staying together through adversity. "We just love each other as brothers and play hard for each other because we don't want this to end," he said.
When he sees how hard his teammates play "it makes me want to play hard for them as well because they got my back and I got their back," Bandera said. "It's like that on the ice but also in school or anywhere. We're a brotherhood."
Vianney's Sean Griffin, a defenseman who had an assist against De Smet, called the matchup "a good hard game against people who I've known for a while." He praised his team, especially Bandera, for "playing their hearts out."
Vianney lost 5-3 to Oakville and won 4-2 vs. Parkway South earlier in the round-robin format of the playoffs. Coach Brian McGlynn said "if we won or tied we had the possibility of moving on, but if we lost, our future was uncertain. The kids came out ready to play. They executed real well, paid attention to details."
Vianney had great goaltending, and the players were confident, he said. They took a few penalties, but their practice on penalty kills paid off. De Smet "inspired a lot of intensity by the way they came after us. They were facing elimination, too," McGlynn said.
His team, a young squad with a 7-12-1 record, came together over the course of the season, learning from the older players. "The younger guys seemed to rise to the occasion when they had to, and the older guys embraced it all," the coach said. "We tried to work the younger ones in slowly."
Griffin, the Vianney defenseman, likes the emotional part of hockey and its infectiousness. "It's definitely a game you put your entire life into," he said. "It's not just a side job. This is where you play the summer, winter, all year long."
Goalie Bandera said that as a preschooler he'd put a hockey helmet on and watch hockey games with his dad. He didn't start playing until he was 9, which is fairly late compared to most players. "I've always wanted to get better and show people that I can start late and make something of it still," he said.
Sometimes when he's down in a game he'll say a little prayer to to bring a positive vibe, clear his mind and help him go on. "One of the most important things as a goalie is you have to have a short-memory loss so if something goes wrong you can reset. If you keep dwelling on it, obviously it affects your play," Bandera said.
Vianney does community service as a team and prays before and after every game. "There's definitely St. John Vianney spirit throughout the whole black-and-gold bench here," McGlynn said. "They're smart kids, a whole bunch on the honor role, and we encourage that. If they're not performing in school, they'll sit until their grade cards improve."
Applauding De Smet
Nick Thorpe, a De Smet forward, said it was an emotional loss, coming after a narrow loss to St. Louis University High School and to Marquette earlier in the playoffs. "Playing for the seniors was really what it was all about," Thorpe said. "Playing for the crest on the front, not about the number on the back. We really wanted to battle as a team tonight because we care about each other. Sitting in the locker room, we were speechless because we fought so hard."
The team entered the Mid-States playoffs as the fourth seed in the Challenge Cup Division. They had a 14-8-1 record. Thorpe said the games against St. Louis University High School were a highlight, two Jesuit schools that live by the motto, "Men for Others." Both schools approach games as a team effort, he said.
Hockey "has taught me so many things beyond the ice — how to be a good teammate, how to be a good friend, how to work hard and how to be passionate about something," he said.
Casey Ott, an alum from the Class of 2003 who is one of De Smet's coaches, said he views the team's successes as forming a strong bond and building character. Vianney played well, he said, and "wanted it just as bad as us."
Another De Smet coach, Chris Dorso, lamented the bad bounces and missed opportunities such as shots that hit the cross bar or went awry when there was an open net. Vianney, he said, should be proud of its goaltending and team play. Hockey, he said, provides life lessons that the players always will remember. RELATED ARTICLE(S):Men's hockey team defeats stereotype of men of faith